American Farm Bureau Federation leaders know passing a new farm bill in the current budget environment will be difficult. But those leaders are not yet ready to give up on farm program benefits such as direct payments, an AFBF spokesman said.

While the Iowa Farm Bureau has voted to recommend eliminating direct payments in the 2012 law, the national Farm Bureau organization is a “long way” from endorsing such a move, says Tara Smith, director of congressional relations with AFBF.

Smith’s comments came at a farm policy session at the USA Rice Outlook Conference in Biloxi, Miss. Smith was joined by Joe Outlaw, co-director of the Agricultural and Food Policy Center at Texas A&M University; Gary Adams, vice-president for economics and policy analysis at the National Cotton Council; and the USA Rice Federation’s Reece Langley.

“We’re a grass roots organization, and we certainly have some states that have gone down that path,” said Smith, referring to the vote by the Iowa Farm Bureau’s delegate body. “We have other states that vehemently oppose going down that path.”

The debate over direct payments, which account for about $5 billion a year in federal spending, has increasingly taken a north-south tone. Farmers in the Mid-South contend the direct payments are built into the collateral for their operating loans. Northern Corn Belt producers believe the payments would be better spent for county-based ACRE payments.

“The beauty of being a grassroots organization is that farm policy issues work their way up the organization,” said Smith. “We’ll ultimately have a delegate body that will meet in Atlanta in January. They will decide as a whole what policies they want to be our priorities, and we’ll move forward.”

(The American Farm Bureau Federations Resolutions Committee is scheduled to meet in Washington to further analyze the organization’s farm policy options the week of Dec. 13.)